All too often, the idea of being alone has a negative connotation. That's because it's associated with the word lonely. But getting to the point where you enjoy being alone—and, dare we say, feel happy alone—is a powerful place to be, and one that can be very grounding and rewarding once you’re comfortable in it.
In order to feel happy alone, you must first build a relationship with yourself. “This involves actually getting to know yourself, as you would anyone else you wanted to build a relationship with,” explains Nancy Colier, psychotherapist and author of The Emotionally Exhausted Woman.
Colier adds that “while you may think you already know yourself, maybe more than you want to know, most of what you know is probably about who you should be and shouldn’t be, as opposed to who you really are.”
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In that sense, getting to know yourself unapologetically is the first step to learning how to love yourself and be happy alone. Here's an expert guide to finding happiness alone.
Become your own best friend
First of all, be mindful of self-judgments that might arise when spending time focusing on yourself, and remember that putting yourself first is a healthy move. “As women, we’re taught to be selfless, to take care of others’ needs over our own, and if possible, to have no needs of our own,” says Colier. “If we put ourselves on the list of people who matter, if we choose to spend time with ourselves, we’re often labeled selfish and entitled.”
Colier says it might be helpful to acknowledge the loss up until this point of not having experienced true love for yourself or even happiness in solitude. You can also do a small ritual like burning a candle or journaling to signify the start of your personal journey to loving yourself and appreciating being alone. “Journaling can be a wonderful way to discover new things about ourselves and gain deeper insights into who we are," says Kristin Wilson, a counselor and chief experience officer at Newport Healthcare. “Writing in a journal can provide an emotional release and offer a place for us to be completely honest and authentic with ourselves,” she adds.
Strengthen that connection to yourself
Loneliness can be harmful to both our physical and mental health, so it is important to tackle feelings of loneliness as they arise. But ending loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean adding more people to your life.
“When we feel lonely, we immediately set out to expand our circle of people, convinced that more intimacy with others is the answer to our emptiness,” says Colier. “While this approach can be helpful, the most profound form of loneliness we experience comes from our disconnection with ourselves.”
To mend that rift, start by getting curious about who you are, what you really feel in certain situations, and what you truthfully want out of life. “When you start paying attention to and relating to yourself with curiosity and kindness, as a destination and someone worth knowing, a new kind of intimacy forms, an intimacy with yourself, which, in fact, is the most reliable remedy for loneliness,” Colier says.
Focus on your desires, not your duties.
First, examine the amount the time you spend on social media, then “take a step back so you’re not focused on what others are doing or feel that you are missing out on something,” says Wilson. “Mindless scrolling can often leave us feeling sad and lonely.”
Once you've unplugged a bit, try unpacking your narrative and core belief about what it means to spend time with yourself, says Colier. Think about what’s getting in the way of enjoying that time: “Do you think it makes you a bad person to want to be in ‘just’ your own company? Does time with yourself mean that you cannot spend time with others, that it’s either-or?” Says Colier, “Enjoying time with yourself requires evolving your idea of yourself, from someone whose purpose is to pay attention to and serve others, to someone who’s deserving of your own attention—for the simple reason that you want and need it.”
When spending time alone, keep the focus on “What do I want?” Colier says that so much of how we spend our time is based around the question “What should I do?” Instead, “When you allow yourself to live from want, time with yourself has the possibility of being joyful and genuinely nourishing,” she says.